Closing the Door on Childbearing

Choosing to let go of expectations, accept reality, and live in gratitude

My daughter came into the world with her arm raised. She was ready for action on day one and hasn’t slowed down since. With blond curls and a radiant smile, she’s a silly little bolt of sunshine.

The day my daughter was conceived, we elected to freeze the remaining embryos that resulted from our Invitro Fertilization cycle. We’d been on this fertility roller coaster for three years, and worried it might not end here.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 10% of women struggle with infertility in the United States. That’s a large number of women. Given the success rates of assisted reproductive technology cycles are primarily dependent on a woman’s age, we were fortunate to be in the under 35 age bracket at the time. Still, the success rate, according to the CDC, for young women, is only 50%.

I knew I was pregnant when the nausea hit on Christmas Day. I didn’t even need to hear it from the doctor. I spent the day eating cheerios to keep nausea at bay and curling up on the couch in the basement to avoid the smells of food cooking.

I felt like he was going back on a verbal agreement we’d made to have more children.

After so many miscarriages, however, I wasn’t willing to be too hopeful. I didn’t want to get attached to this baby, just in case. There is some evidence that babies conceived through IVF have a higher rate of congenital disabilities. Hence, until our genetic testing indicated our baby was growing correctly, I held back hope.

Five days later, an emergency call from my doctors saying I needed to get estrogen supplements immediately or risk miscarriage had my husband and brother sprinting across Brooklyn to find an open pharmacy. Despite my wanting to hold back connection until I was sure this pregnancy was viable, I felt panic rise as the clock ticked. Modern medical science worked wonders on my body, and we are forever grateful.

I’m so glad we didn’t give up, and that our relationship survived the strain of infertility. I can’t overstate how incredible that is. The emotional rollercoaster is an absolute bitch.

This week I got the final call from our fertility doctor to verify our decision to have the remaining embryos destroyed. We opted to donate them to science. Though I want to be the sort of person who would donate unused embryos for use by another infertile couple, I can’t wrap my head around the likelihood of there being a child in the world biologically related, yet not mine.

When Evelyn was a year old, I brought up the idea of having more children. My husband said he didn’t want to, and I cried. I felt like he was going back on a verbal agreement we’d made to have more children.

When we were first dating, Jim was the one to bring up the subject of more children. It was Early Spring, and we were hiking what would become our favorite trail. I spent the night at his place for the first time, and we started our morning exploring the forest near his home.

At the time, I was surprised. Jim had three children, I had one, and I assumed he wouldn’t want more. That day, when I admitted that I did want more children, he pushed me against a tree along the hiking trail and kissed me heartily.

Four years later, when he let me know that there was no way he’d consider having more children, I mourned the life I expected to have (more about those expectations later). We’d agreed on more children; we had frozen embryos that we’d planned on using, or, at least, I’d planned on using.

My husband raised five babies, they aren’t all biologically his, but you’d never know it. Any sane person could see why he felt done with the baby years.

I’ve raised two babies, though I’ve been pregnant many more times than that. Building loving connections with stepchildren takes time and, when we were first married, my relationships with them hadn’t yet solidified. It’s a strange thing, the blended family situation. I love each of my children differently, not because they are biological or step, but because they are all unique people. I have five children.

When my belly swelled during my last pregnancy, my son announced that when moms have more children, their love doesn’t get divided, they get more love, which is why they get so big. I think there’s some truth to that.

It took me a while to get over the idea of never feeling a tiny foot press into my abdomen again, of never feeling the hormone release while breastfeeding. I spewed some harsh words at Jim and shed plenty of tears. I’d always imagined having four children, and my husband was letting me know that he just wasn’t willing to go there again.

Fertility treatments and pregnancy were hard on me, mentally and physically. Like so many women, I suffered from postpartum depression after my daughter’s birth that had me looking for sharp objects and begging my doctors to fix my brain. It was the scariest time of my life, and I am so grateful to my husband and the medical team for their support.

Ultimately, for my husband, it wasn’t worth giving up my health for another roll of the biological dice. I didn’t try to convince him to change his mind; having children isn’t a place for compromise. There’s no way to have half a child. I asked for time to think, and we set a time to discuss the frozen embryos again a year later.

During that year, I worked diligently to shift my mindset. Instead of thinking about having another child, I started imagining what my future might look like if Evelyn was my last child. I imagined a renewed focus on my career, freedom to travel, and more time for dates with the love of my life. None of that sounded too tough to handle.

Sitting in a bitter place can lead you down a rabbit hole of guilt over past choices and anxiety about the future.

I also thought about how having another child would further divide my attention and limit the amount of one on one time I was able to spend with each of our kids. Jim and I make a point of traveling with just one of our kids regularly, and those trips are significant to each of them.

Now, with the chronic Lyme disease, I’ve been fighting for a year, the decision is easy. I’m about to turn 37, my joints hurt every day, and my muscles decide not to work sometimes. I couldn’t carry a pregnancy right now whether I wanted to or not.

The realization that I’m content with our family hit me this past summer when we watched our two youngest play on the beach, and again during a one on one trip with my son to New York City. This life we’ve built is pretty incredible. I’m no longer sad about what could have been.

I sometimes think about that young woman who dreamed of having four children. I think she’d be pretty happy with five, too. They are all mine, no matter how they showed up.

This acceptance was not easy for me because I had to give up something I had always expected to have in my life. Here’s the thing about expectations: life doesn’t owe me anything just because I hope for it, and if I spend too much time focusing on my expectations, I might miss the magic in front of me.

I’m not saying that I should have stopped myself from mourning the loss of a life I wanted. Sadness is a fundamental emotion that helps us to reevaluate, accept the way things are, and revise our plans accordingly. It was vital for me to feel this loss and to grieve it. Taking time to process was necessary.

When we let grief take over, it becomes anger and resentment. Sitting in a bitter place can lead us down a rabbit hole of guilt over past choices and anxiety about the future.

If I had allowed that anger to settle in when my husband declared his refusal to have more children, it could have destroyed our marriage. Instead, I allowed myself to feel sad and disappointed until I was able to accept reality and shift my mindset to be happy with how life turned out.

I hung up with my fertility clinic after discussing the fate of our embryos; I’m happy that they will be used for stem cell research, and may ultimately benefit society in significant ways.

These days, I get my new baby fix when my friends have children. As I polish this draft, I’m sitting in my friend’s living room, her newborn baby strapped to my chest in a Moby wrap while she squeezes in some much-needed alone time with her older child. I’m more than happy to snuggle and rock for a few hours and leave the sleepless nights to someone else.

If you enjoyed this, subscribe to my newsletter for periodic updates on my work and the work of authors I admire.

Writer | Coach | Educator | Social Change | Mental Health

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store